By Shikharr Chandra
Liverpool FC were last crowned champions of England in 1990. Having witnessed the league snatched away from them in the most dramatic of circumstances in the previous season, the club bounced back to set a new record in English football by claiming their 18th title. But, few would have forseen the fall of Liverpool since that famous league triumph 24 years ago.
There have been signs of revival from Liverpool since then. Rafa Benitez's side of 2009 was the last team to seriously challenge in the league as they fell short to rivals Manchester United who equalled Liverpool's record of 18 league titles that season, whereas the 1996 side of Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore was beautiful to watch but lacked the defensive cohesion.
"My greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f****** perch. And you can print that" said Sir Alex Ferguson back in September 2002. The former Aberdeen manager was handed the responsibility of rebuilding the squad from scratch when he took over. 18-8 was the count in favour of Liverpool when the Scot first won the league in 1992-93, but even he would have not predicted such an easy ride towards league supremacy.
Much of it has been due to Ferguson's impressive managerial skills but partially due to Liverpool's poor choices as well. Rafa Benitez provided a silver lining during his stint with the side which was graced by the likes of Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano and of course Steven Gerrard to name a few, but that seems a distant memory now. The Spaniard was sacked just a season after he guided the club to second place in the league.
Even Champions League qualification seemed to be a tough ask let alone the Premier League title itself as Liverpool found themselves sinking into midtable obscurity. When Brendan Rodgers took over the club, the foremost aim was to put Liverpool back on the map but that was only possible with time and a proper rebuilding process.
But as they stepped foot in Old Trafford last weekend, the air of optimism surrounding the club that had been missing on their previous travels to the stadium seemed to have returned. Even David Moyes in his pre-match press conference was quick to point out that the Merseyside club had the upper hand going into the game. Rodgers' side did not dissapoint as they landed the defining moment of their campaign with a dominant and comfortable 3-0 win at 'The Theatre of Dreams'.
The performance was reminiscent of the club's 4-1 win back in 2008-09 season under Benitez, but even that victory would rank second to the way Rodgers' troops dismantled United from the word go. "No chance", was Rodgers' response when asked about his side's title ambition this season but even the former Swansea City manager know they have an opportunity going into the final eight games of the season.
At this stage last season, Liverpool stood on 42 points battling it out for a place in next season's Europa League whereas Manchester United were on course to be crowned champions of England for the 20th time. How quickly the tables have turned.
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This is not about luck but sheer hardwork, patience and Rodgers's philosophy that is starting to blossom. For a side that finished seventh last season, there were little positives to take away but even the club owners knew that patience was the key and gave Rodgers their full backing and are now reaping the benefits.
This is a side that is quick, has the two best strikers in the league, arguably the best central midfield in the country and although there is a hint of the 1996 shaky defense, with the right investment, things will only improve in that department.
This is a manager who believes in his philosophy. He has taken Liverpool from utter mediocrity to being one of the most stylish and feared Premier League sides again. There is a sense of panache in this side and the use of more and more English players helps the national team as well.
Liverpool's unity and the fact that they are not over reliant on a single player has helped their cause. At Chelsea, Eden Hazard pulls the strings and should he have an off day like the one he endured at Aston Villa over the weekend, the club is short of options in attack. Liverpool on the other hand have players in all positions capable of putting in match-winnig performances.
Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are the league's most prolific goal scorers. The duo have assisted each other really well over the course of the season despite their being doubts among the supporters of how well the two would play together.
Rodgers's decision to stick with Sturridge as the main center forward despite Suarez's presence has paid dividends. Sturridge who had constantly been played on the wings at Chelsea with Torres featuring as the main striker failed to showcase his finishing skills, but it seems Rodgers has learnt from his old club's mistakes.
The midfield of Raheem Sterling, Phillipe Coutinho, Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson have been the key players in this side who have helped them work so seamlessly. Henderson who was deemed a failure after his first season has shown a remarkable transformation and vindicated the faith put in him by Rodgers.
Sterling seemed to stagnate after suffering regular dips in form but has become one of Roy Hodgson's wildcards for the World Cup squad to take to Brazil. The winger was played behind the two strikers against Manchester United at the top of a diamond midfield and showed no signs of pressure as he adapted to his new role fairly easily.
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But no Liverpool side can be complete without Gerrard's regular shifts and that has been the case this season as well. The England captain had been shifted to a deeper role by Rodgers and even though there were glimpses of him struggling early on in the season, he has made the position his own now.
However, for a testament to Rodgers's man-management skills, look no further than young Jon Flanagan. The full-back is a typical example of this ever improving Liverpool side. Flanagan has been fantastic at left-back for his boyhood club this season, putting in solid performances in defense and being competent in attack.
The most notable imrovement has been Liverpool's ability to grind out results. Over the years they have at times lacked the killer instinct which led to them dropping points. This side though never gives up and that was evident in the 4-3 win over Swansea.
With every Liverpool victory this season, the odds of them winning the league have looked better and better. The 5-0 win against Spurs, the 5-1 demolition of Arsenal or the emphatic 4-0 victory over Everton; Rodgers's side have not bowed down to big teams but rather given them a warning of the new era that is dawning.
The 5-0 away win over Tottenham showed further evidence of Liverpool's dominance from the midfield and how well Rodgers has incorporated the pressing style of football. They are currently the most dangerous side to defend against in the league. The Reds have created more clear cut chances (67) than any other side so far and have completed more dribbles (370) as well.
At 39, Rodgers is the least experienced manager among the top four teams in the league, but it's safe to say on the basis of this season's performances that he justifies his place among the four. The Northern Irish manager, unlike his counterparts, does not have several titles or awards to his name but he has hardly let that affect him or his team.
The target at the start of the season was to qualify for the Champions League but with eight games to go now that seems a mere formality as Liverpool seem capable of achieving more than what they set out to.
'Make us dream' read the banner from the Liverpool end at Old Trafford and its fitting to say that Rodgers is mighty close to making the fans relive the days of 1990 once again. The former Chelsea youth coach has managed to change the fortunes of this side in two seasons and with home games against Manchester City and Chelsea coming up in the next few weeks at Anfield, Liverpool know that there title chances are in their own hands.
But regardless of what the final outcome of the season might be, Rodgers has given the fans reason to dream and by the looks of it, this Liverpool side is here to stay for many more seasons to come.
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